Timothy Dwight began to act strangely in the summer of 1676 when he could not see the woman he loved.
He was the son of a Dedham ship captain and apprenticed to Joseph Hull, the father-in-law of Samuel Sewall. Hull, one of the most prominent merchants in Boston, had won an appointment as mintmaster of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The son of a blacksmith, Hull had taught himself silversmithing. He formed a successful partnership with Robert Sanderson, who had apprenticed in London before migrating to Massachusetts Bay. The two were the first silversmiths in New England, and they taught the next generation of silversmiths — including Timothy Dwight.
Sewall and his new wife Hannah were living in John Hull’s Boston mansion. So were Timothy Dwight, an apprentice silversmith, and John Alcock.
Timothy Dwight in Love
Sewall would serve as a judge of the Salem witch trials, for which he later apologized. For 55 years he also kept a diary, in which he recorded much of what happened to the third generation of English settlers in Massachusetts. He did not fail to mention young Timothy Dwight’s paroxysms of love.
Saturday Even. Aug. 12, 1676, just as prayer ended Tim. Dwight sank down in a swoon, and for a good space was as if he perceived not what was done to him…
After that, wrote Sewall, he kicked and sprawled, “knocking his hands and feet upon the floor like a distracted man.”
John Alcock carried him on his back to bed and pulled off his clothes, wrote Sewall. “In the night it seems he talked of ships, his master, father and uncle Eliot.”
The next Sunday, Sewall wrote that “Father” (presumably Dwight’s father, also Timothy Dwight; Sewall’s father had died by then) went to the young man and asked what ailed him. He asked if he could pray for him, and what did he desire his friends to pray for?
“He answered, for more sight of sin, and God’s healing grace,” wrote Sewall. Then Samuel Sewall, alone with him, asked whether his troubles came from any outward or spiritual cause. “He answered, ‘spiritual’,” wrote Sewall.
“I asked him why then he could not tell it his master,” he wrote, “as well as any other, since it is the honor of any man to see sin and be sorry for it.”
He gave no answer. Then Sewall asked if he would go to meeting. “He said, ’twas in vain for him; his day was out. I asked, what day; he answered, of Grace.”
“I told him ’twas sin for any one to conclude themselves reprobate, that this was all one. He said he would speak more, but could not, &c.”
Sewall then concluded the trouble “arose from a maid whom he passionately loved.” When his father and his master, John Hull, let him go to her, he soon afterward “grew well.”
What Happened Next
Timothy Dwight married Elizabeth Alcock, probably John Alcock’s daughter. Hull gave him his freedom, and he went into business as a goldsmith. He apparently prospered, as he left in his will a house and land in Boston, land in Roxbury and a farm in Marlborough.
He and Elizabeth were said to have had no children. On Dec. 9, 1691, he wrote his will, having been “visited by the hands of ye Just & Almighty God with a sore and languishing sickness.” Dwight left all of his property to his “dear wife Elizabeth,” except for one item: his musket. That went to his brother Michael.
Sewall noted the pallbearers at his funeral included another former apprentice of Hull and Sanderson, Jeremiah Dummer, and Sanderson’s son, Robert.
The Museum of Fine Arts Boston holds in its collection a silver salver and tankard made by Timothy Dwight.
The Dwight Family
Many members of the Dwight family achieved prominence as educators, writers, clergy, military leaders and at least one well-known actress. Timothy Dwight’s father, also Timothy Dwight, had six wives. He outlived all except one, Bethia, who died a week after he did in 1718. Timothy Dwight the silversmith was the son of his father’s second wife. Many of the famous Dwights had his half-brother from wife No. 3, Nathaniel, as an ancestor.
Nathaniel’s descendants include three Yale College presidents, Timothy Dwight IV and V and Theodore Dwight Woolsey. They also include two prominent writers, father and son named Theodore Dwight, and 19th-century novelist Catharine Maria Sedgwick. Other Sedgwicks include actress Kyra Sedgwick, model Edie Sedgwick and lawyer Theodore Sedgwick. Nathaniel was also the great-great-great-great- grandfather of brothers William Morris Hunt, a well-known painter, and architect Richard Morris Hunt.
Photo: Detail from ‘Samuel Sewall’ by John Smibert – Collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons. Kyra Sedgwick By Angela George, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6993763. With thanks to Hermann Frederick Clarke, “The Craft of Silversmith in Early New England,” The New England Quarterly, March, 1939. This story was updated in 2021.
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